Blind Boone: Missouri’s Ragtime Pioneer by Jack Batterson
This book deserves a lower rating just for the misleading title. ‘Blind’ John Boone is hailed as a ragtime pioneer by Jack Batterson yet other authors allege that his rag medleys are not even ragtime. The fact that Boone’s rag medleys are only lightly syncopated suggests that he had a different concept of ragtime, or at least conceived of a broader umbrella. In any case, despite being familiar with James Scott, it seems that the full extent of ragtime syncopation did not suit Boone.
A further consideration is that Boone’s primary interest was classical music and would mainly play composers such as Chopin and Liszt in his recitals. The rag medleys and other such pieces were left until the end of his concerts as a friendly gesture towards those who were not able to grasp the more difficult classical repertoire. He referred to this as “putting the cookies on the lower shelf” so that everybody in the audience could enjoy them.
Boone’s arrangements in the Rag Medleys #1 and #2, as well as the Camp Meeting #1 appear to be true to folk sources in that there is very little elaboration by Boone. These can be contrasted with Boone’s Danse Des Nègres: Caprice De Concert and Old Folks At Home: Grand Fantasie. These pieces have folk or popular sources but Boone embroiders them with his florid romantic style so that their effect is more like Gottschalk than authentic folk music. In the rag medleys it seems that he let the original sources speak for themselves rather than elaborate on them.
The conclusion, then, is that Boone was no pioneer of ragtime. In his rag medleys he simply reproduced and arranged what he heard. Boone’s role is thus a transmitter of existing folk elements rather than a pioneer. Nevertheless, in Rag Medley #2, Strains from the Flat Branch, this yields great results as we hear an early walking bass and bluesy treatment of I’m Alabama Bound.
Batterson makes no case for Boone as a ragtime pioneer but simply states as such in his book. Were it not for this one weakness it would be a fine book. It runs through Blind Boone’s life and accomplishments in an easy manner. There is a not an excessive amount of detail and the book seems intended light reading rather than serious study.